Wednesday
Nov132013

Mongolia - Home of the Khans

Genghis Khan and Mongolia are synonymous. Few country’s name and their former leader are known by so many yet visited by so few. This is a rugged land with rugged people who share a rich history, firmly rooted in tradition yet racing towards all that the modern world has to offer. Its capital Ulaanbaatar (UB), temperature-wise, is the coldest on earth, the countryside has little arable farmland, and it’s the second largest landlocked country in the world (Kazakhstan is first), making it a challenging place to survive in, let alone prosper. Perhaps this is part of the reason why more than half of Mongolia’s three million residents have moved to the capital, making it a rapidly changing city with a kaleidoscope of people, colors and flavors.

Ulaanbaatar’s name alone is exotic and far-flung enough to warrant a visit, and once there you will understand what being at the edge of the Earth is like. Tourists rarely visit in any substantial numbers and you might find yourself as a bit of an attraction. Most famous for its fearsome leader Genghis Khan (also spelled Chingis/Chinghis Khaan) who formed one of the largest empires the world has ever seen, you can see firsthand the type of harsh, barren landscape that shaped a legendary, brutal leader. Born Temujin, likely in 1162, he conquered most of modern day China, further south to what is now Vietnam, ventured in to parts of Myanmar and west all the way to eastern Europe and the Middle East before dying in 1227 and passing power to his son. Delving in to Genghis’ history and the legend should be an integral part of a visit and it’s easy to do, as images and info are everywhere. There’s even an Irish Pub bearing his name!

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Wednesday
Nov062013

Big City Transit: Singapore

You’re never far from where you want to be in Singapore – and that’s just one more reason to love the local transit system. You can wheel around in a trishaw or board a bumboat to cruise the Singapore River and admire the skyline. For pure transit needs in this world-class city, you’ll find everything you need between the MRT, taxis and buses. And as with so many things in Singapore, you can expect that the infrastructure is going to be well-organized and spotlessly clean.

Residents and long-term visitors carry an EZ-Link stored value card, which covers both the MRT and bus networks and eliminates those awkward scrounging-for-change-in-your-pocket moments. If you’re just in the city for a few days, pick up a Singapore Tourist Pass for a few bucks per day and enjoy unlimited access to the MRT and buses. 

Read on for a breakdown of Singapore’s transit system:

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Thursday
Oct312013

Agoda.com wins Lonely Planet Traveller Award for Best Booking Service in Thailand

It’s been a good week in the Agoda.com offices. We are very honored to announce that we were named as the Best Booking Service in Thailand at the recent Lonely Planet Traveller Destination Awards 2013.

The event, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, was presented by Lonely Planet Traveller, a branch of the award winning monthly magazine for those who are curious about the world.

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Thursday
Oct242013

The other side of Koh Phangan 

Poor Koh Phangan – all you ever really hear about are its full moon parties. This is largely the work of the island itself, which is constantly trumpeting full moon and half-moon and black moon events, and ignoring all the other great things to do there. True, the full moon party is a huge draw for the island, but it's just one tiny aspect of Phangan.

In fact, Phangan is as idyllic a destination as any other Thai island. It shares the same topography as neighboring Samui – the same powdery sand, clear turquoise water, rainforest jungles, waterfalls, mountain lookouts, coral reefs, and secluded bays and coves. On the cultural side, there are Buddhist temples, meditation and yoga retreats, art enclaves, Muay Thai camps and an international array of restaurants. It diverges from the better-known islands in that it leans more towards the bohemian, and is overall more relaxed and affordable than, say, Phuket or Samui.

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Wednesday
Oct162013

All Aboard - Trans-Siberian Railway

The words ‘Trans-Siberian Railway’ conjure up images of far-flung landscapes, exotic adventures and romantic isolation. Featured in countless books and movies, many intrepid travelers consider it a must-do on their global conquest list. Famous for being the longest single railway line in the world, it’s an impressive network that connects Russia’s capital Moscow and the country’s far eastern reaches at Vladivostok, some 9,289km away. It also links with other lines heading further afield to northeastern Russia, Mongolia, China and even North Korea. While the journey is indeed one for the ages, some careful consideration and planning are required to ensure it’s fun and memorable.

While locals use the train to travel portions of the line, most tourists start their journey in either Beijing or Moscow, traveling between the two capital cities, typically with a couple stops along the way to break things up. This route covers two lines, the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian, and comes in at a whopping 8,861km, taking seven days in a single stretch, which is not advisable. Being on the train itself is an exercise in passive exploration and a very different journey for those not accustomed to long trips by rail.

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Wednesday
Oct092013

Getting to Know Moscow

Not so long ago Moscow was the iron heart of a mysterious nation under lock and key. Outsiders were limited to classic Cold War rhetoric and images on TV, usually featuring grey buildings, people waiting in lines for staples like bread and tanks plying the Kremlin’s laneways showcasing military might. Fast-forward a couple decades and Russia’s capital is bustling with energy, firmly capitalist, home to Europe’s tallest building and remarkably friendly.

Yet it’s hard not to think about Moscow’s communist past as you explore this city of 15-million, as many buildings and monuments still bear images of the famous hammer and sickle or people harvesting crops and hoisting flags in victory. But there’s also a polish, shine, new coat of paint, both literally and figuratively, that brings the city’s overall mood in to the modern global community and era. This is a city well worth devoting a few days to discovering.

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Wednesday
Oct022013

A Look at a Few of Europe’s Favorite Dishes

Much like movies or cars or music, there is no “one best” food that pleases everyone. Some like spicy, some like mild, some prefer a fine t-bone steak while others would prefer to avoid meat entirely. Every country or culture has its own specialties and favorites, and as fans of travel, Agoda.com thinks that trying the local dishes is the best – and tastiest – way to learn a bit more about the country you’re in. Here are a few of Europe’s most-loved and popular foods, and the country they hail from.

Bulgaria

Almost every restaurant in the Balkan Peninsula serves Shopska Salad, which gets its name from the Shopluk region where Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia meet. The story goes that it was created in the 1950’s  as a unique dish to offer visitors and place Bulgaria on the culinary map, much like Italian gelato or Chinese dumplings have done. The recipe is quite simple: chop up tomatoes, cucumber, onion, peppers and parsley, add oil and a few dashes of salt or pepper, and top it off with a healthy dose of grated briny sirene cheese. Splash a bit of vinegar on there if you want a stronger taste.

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Wednesday
Sep252013

Hotels of Note: The Manila Hotel

The Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands, which is a staggering amount of choice if you are an island lover. The most logical place to start a trip to the Philippines is the capital of Manila. Most international flights arrive here, and from Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport you can get to everywhere else. But before rushing off to those idyllic islands you may want to consider checking out the capital, and if you do you shouldn’t miss the majestic Manila Hotel.

Hotel History

The 570-room Manila Hotel opened in 1912, making it the oldest luxury hotel in the Philippines. It was a part of the plan to rebuild Manila when the US took over the Philippines from Spain in 1898, which included wide boulevards, stately buildings and elegant architecture. The grand design of the Manila Hotel matched this ambition well, and it was decided to place it next to Rizal Park.

The hotel was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II – that is, until American and Philippine forces launched the offensive that became the catastrophic Battle of Manila. Despite most of the city being destroyed, the hotel survived mostly intact. It returned to business after the war, and was expanded in 1976.

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Wednesday
Sep182013

Overview of the side dishes that make a Korean meal complete

With every meal you eat in South Korea, you’ll not only get the main dish, but also a variety of small side dishes known as banchan. From a Korean self-barbecue feast to a simple hot rice/salad mixture of bibimbap, everywhere you eat, tasty side dishes will be provided.

There are countless different types of banchan prepared in South Korea, but the exact ingredients will depend on where you are in the country and what ingredients happen to be locally available at that particular time. Soy sauce-braised tofu, boiled bean sprouts in chili, miniature seafood pancakes, quail eggs, candied lotus root, sesame seed-seasoned greens, stir fried potato starch noodles, and of course, kimchi, are just a sampling of the never ending list of banchan possibilities. In fact, banchan are so delicious and offers such a well-rounded realm of flavors, that the side dishes alone could be considered an entire feast of its own!

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Wednesday
Sep112013

Big City Transit: Jakarta

Just so we’re clear: Jakarta has a traffic problem. The city’s official tourism portal tactfully points out that congestion is a problem “despite the presence of many wide roads”. That’s one way of putting it, and here’s another – there’s plenty to enjoy in this energizing metropolis; but getting around isn’t one of them.

Jakarta is the biggest city in the world without a mass rapid transit system. Construction is underway, but relief is a long way off. Meanwhile, car ownership in the capital grows 10 to 15 percent each year. Analysts are even counting down to an impending ‘total gridlock’ apocalypse, where traffic becomes so bad that it begins to affect the efficiency of the city’s workforce and the economic output thereof. It sounds sensational, but total gridlock is no joke, and it’s a very hot topic in Jakarta.

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